So I have a dirty secret… Although a good chunk of my life is taken up with the practice and consideration of feeding others, one of my favorite meals is the one I make for myself. Just me. And that meal is weekday lunch. And that lunch is typically a big beautiful bowl of Asian noodles.
Around 1 o’clock I take a break from whatever I’m doing, get a pot of water boiling, and start pulling ingredients out of the fridge and cupboard. Unlike the dinnertime meal, my lunch bowls are often scrappy and impetuous affairs, designed around what’s already in the fridge and what I have a taste for. More importantly, the preparation is completely freeing because I don’t have to ask anyone (family members) for approval over what we’re going to eat. Even if you’re a home cooking who doesn’t subscribe to the “short-order cook” school of family meal preparation, there’s always some amount of catering to the quirks and tastes of the people you’re in charge of feeding. But not with lunchtime for one. There’s no:Â “didn’t we have that already this week” or “ech, why are the eggs so runny?” or “you did you put so much green stuff in it!?” or “My mouth is on fire!”. What is that you say? I didn’t hear you becauseÂ it’s lunchtime and I’m making whatever I want!
An Asian noodle bowl lends itself to lunchtime because most dried noodles (I like soba, udon, and somen) only take 2-4 minutes to cook. The rest of the ingredients can be stockpiled ahead of time or thrown together with odd and ends. Typically I like to add any and all of the following:
–One 7-minute egg (so the yolk is just a tad runny): This is one of those stockpile ingredients because on Sunday, I try and boil a few eggs ahead of time so that they’re ready in the fridge for such an occasion. If you haven’t done this ahead of time, then you can always add the eggs to the boiling water before cooking the noodles.
–Greens: Arugula, pea shoots, stir-fried bok choy, sauteed chard leaves, massaged kale…it doesn’t matter, just something green.
–Something crunchy: Shredded carrots, slivers of red cabbage, thinly sliced radish, bean sprouts are all good.
–Seeds or nuts: Cashews, pistachios, hazelnuts, they can hang with an Asian noodle bowl, but toasted sesame seeds are my favorite, if you can find furikake then this will fill in nicely.
–Caramelized onions: This is a bonus ingredient if you have the time but when I have to say that, when I find a little tangle of sweet and tender onions in the midst of my noodles it always seems worth it.
–Broth or Dressing:Â If you want to eat your noodles as a soup then you can make a quick broth (see THIS great recipe) by just simmering a store-bought chicken or vegetable broth with soy sauce and ginger . I also love my noodles cold with either a nuoc cham dipping sauce (simple recipe HERE) or Asian vinaigrette. A great combination is 2 parts sesame oil, 1 part rice wine vinegar, 1 part soy sauce, 1 minced garlic clove (normally I scrape it on a microplane directly into the dressing). Taste for seasonings.The most important thing is to have fun with your creation and put in whatever you’d like–remember you don’t need to ask for anyone’s approval but your own!